My wife worked in television for a number of years, a lot of friends continue to do so and some have even gone on to make films so I was not a complete novice when I came to co-produce Made In Birmingham: Reggae Punk Bhangra, I knew what a boom was for instance or what ‘that’s a wrap’ means! Other than that, in film experience, I was a complete novice. So how did I end up with a co Executive Producer credit and a documentary film I am extremely proud of?
I started the Birmingham Popular Music Archive because I was fed up with the lack of recognition the city received for its musical heritage. I wanted the city – its agencies and citizens – to celebrate artists such as The Spencer Davis Group, The Move, ELO, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Swami, Steel Pulse, Au Pairs, Dexys Midnight Runners, Beshara, Duran Duran, Apna Sangeeta, UB40, Joan Armatrading and the hundreds of others bands from Brum, just as Liverpool or Manchester in the UK, or Memphis, Chicago, New Orleans in the USA celebrate their musical heritage. These cities understand that popular music is not only a great source of cultural and civic pride but that there can also be economic benefits brought about by cultural tourism.
Birmingham has a long and extremely diverse history of popular music making and consumption. From the skiffle and folk of the 50’s to the Brumbeat era of the 60’s, the heavy metal, reggae, punk and post punk of the 70’s, the new romantics and ska of the 80’s, to the indie and dance scenes in the 80’s and 90’s.
I wanted to preserve this heritage, celebrate it and also to use it to inspire future generations of music makers. However, I also wanted users to construct the archive, for them to tell us what their experiences and memories were, what music meant to them and their communities. I think the archive is achieving this.
When I saw the call from Screen WM for the Digital Film Archive Fund, and its themes of expressing issues of identity, community and home through the use and repurposing of archive material I could immediately see the narrative and the interconnectedness in popular music with identity and community. This was especially true with community where there was a lot of opportunity to interpret the meaning of the word, community as a geographical location, community as ethnicity and community as music genres or scenes.
I wanted to explain that popular music was as much about social and cultural interaction, and was a way of individuals and communities expressing themselves as it was about selling millions of records. I think we have succeed in this aspect in our film.
While I had the understanding and some of the knowledge of music in Birmingham (basically in my head) I had no idea about how to go about representing this on screen. This is where my contacts came in handy. Knowing Roger and his body of work made him the obvious first call. Roger brought an experience and clarity to the idea, and enabled me to articulate this to Screen WM. He could also see the potential in the idea about celebrating his adopted home cities music. He also had the much bigger contacts book that was needed. Roger knew Deborah the director!
As soon as we met we were reminiscing of shared gigs and venues, The Mermaid being a particular place, that we both frequented in the 80’s and 90’s and so we had what I considered to be a really strong team with a wide range of skills and experiences.
What Deborah has managed to do, somehow, is take the vision I had in my head and get it onto the screen in a warm, reflective, and engaging way without ever wallowing in nostalgia. I feel we have managed to take a small section of music styles from the city, Reggae, Punk and Bhangra, and show how those communities supported each other, frequented the same spaces, shared ideas and drew from each other’s cultures to reflect the issues that were affecting them.
We have unearthed some amazing footage from organisations such as MACE as well as private holders from as afar afield as America and we have given a voice to those artists who don’t often get the recognition they deserve.
As we await the City of Culture decision, there are lots more stories to tell and films to be made from this rich musical heritage, lots more archive material to repurpose and lots more opportunities for Birmingham to finally realise the amazing cultural resource it has in its popular music history.
I hope Made in Birmingham: Reggae Punk Bhangra will be the first of many such films.
Jez Collins, Co Executive-Producer of the new music documentary film, ‘Made in Birmingham – Reggae Punk Bhangra.’
‘Made in Birmingham’ is a production by swish films for Birmingham Popular Music Archive and Screen WM.
Director Deborah Aston
Executive Producers, Jez Collins and Roger Shannon